Mumsnet calls on Treasury Minister to end HMRC's contract with Bounty
In a letter to Treasury Minister David Gauke MP, Mumsnet has urged the government to cancel its contract with Bounty UK Ltd, whom HMRC has paid over a number of years to distribute child benefit forms to new mothers on maternity wards.
This practice comes at a yearly cost of approximately £90,000 to the taxpayer, amounting to what is believed to be in the region of half a million pounds over a five-year period.
In a survey conducted by Mumsnet last year, nearly one in five respondents (17%) reported that Bounty reps had implied they would not be able to claim child benefit if they did not hand over their personal data, which is then sold on to a multitude of companies.
Justine Roberts, co-founder and CEO of Mumsnet, says: "By paying Bounty a fee for distributing child benefit forms, the HMRC is effectively handing Bounty a bargaining chip it can use to persuade new mums to hand over personal details for Bounty's own commercial gain. Thousands of Mumsnet users have made it clear that the hours after birth on a postnatal ward are neither the time nor place for the hard sell and it's time for the government to stop financially supporting this process."
Meanwhile, building on the success of her Bounty Mutiny petition (now with over 26,000 signatures), campaigner Vicky Garner is calling on the government to end its contract with Bounty.
You can sign the petition here.
Mr David Gauke
1 Horseguards Road
3 April 2014
Dear Mr Gauke,
HMRC contract with Bounty UK Ltd for the distribution of child benefit forms
HMRC, an agency for which you are the responsible minister, has over a number of years contracted the data-mining company Bounty UK Ltd to distribute child benefit forms to some in-patients on NHS maternity wards. In 2011-2012, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 of taxpayer's money for this dubious service; the cumulative amount over a five-year period is believed to be in the region of half a million pounds.
Our members feel strongly that this is an enormous waste of public money, and we are writing to you to ask you not to renew this contract when it is next reviewed.
As you will know, a petition on this issue has gathered more than 66,000 signatures.
Bounty is a data-harvesting company that targets mothers at their most vulnerable, encouraging them to divulge personal information at a time when their defences are low. In a survey we conducted last year, nearly one in five respondents (17%) reported that Bounty employees had implied parents would not be able to claim child benefit if they did not hand over their personal data on the spot (data which, of course, is then sold on to a multitude of companies). Despite Bounty’s assurances that they would retrain their sales representatives (who are usually paid on a commission-only basis), we continue to get reports from our members that this is happening.
We're sure you will agree that this sort of gross misrepresentation is unacceptable for a company in receipt of public funds.
There are several more practical and much cheaper ways to distribute child benefit forms (that are freely available online), including having them given out when children's births are registered - a method that would reach 100% of parents, unlike the patchy service provided by Bounty. We at Mumsnet would happily host the online form free of charge, and we're sure many other sites would follow suit. As we're sure you're aware, the Cabinet Office advice is that such services should be 'digital by default'.
Our members simply do not see any justification for HMRC maintaining a contract that wastes public money, and subsidises a company whose presence on maternity wards has been shown to be detrimental to patients' privacy and wellbeing.
Our members strongly believe that the presence of sales reps on maternity wards is absolutely inappropriate. As the elected representative with responsibility in this matter, we hope you will consider the points raised here and look forward to your response.
Co-founder and CEO